As winter sets in, you might wonder how you know if your dog is warm enough. And how cold is too cold to take them for a walk?
It’s a tricky one; much depends on their natural coat. We go through this question daily in my household in winter because one of my dogs is small and hasn’t got much skin – she is currently wearing a jumper and on my lap under a blanket.
But the majority of breeds are probably OK in most Australian temperatures. In many ways, it’s easier to keep a cold dog with a thin coat warm than a hot, thick-coated dog cool when the mercury climbs.
That said, there are some good general rules to follow to ensure your canine friends don’t suffer when an Antarctic blast hits.
Some guidelines to follow
My rule of thumb is to feel their extremities. If I can handle it, their ears or feet are chilly, and their core temperature might be a bit low. Then I would provide a coat or put the heater on (if we’re staying in).
Much depends on whether your dog has a double coat – many dogs do. You can see if your dog has an undercoat by parting their hair and seeing if there is a soft layer of pale hair between the glossy top coat and the skin.
A dog with a thick undercoat doesn’t need anything more to stay warm on a cold day. Breeds with double coats include most kelpies, cattle dogs, German shepherds, and huskies. Some species, like Samoyeds, have dense undercoats and can tolerate cold well. A dog with ds on whether your dog has a double coat – many dogs do’: feel your dog’s fur to check how well they retain heat. Photograph: Arket
If your dog has a single coat, you might need to think more carefully about the cold. This category’s breed includes Maltese, cavaliers, greyhounds, whippets, and staffies.
In addition to the coat, also consider the golden rule of surface area to volume ratio.
Smaller animals have more surface area for their weight than larger animals, meaning they have more surface area to lose heat than bigger and heavier dogs.
For this reason, small, lean dogs will generally struggle with the cold a bit more than other dogs. For example, Italian greyhounds are much more vulnerable than regular greyhounds.
If we feel cold, then they probably do too. A thicker coat helps slow heat loss, which is good if you live in a cold environment, but not so great if you live in a warm climate.
What behaviors can we look for?
If your dog is shivering, hunched with tail tucked, trying to fold their paws close to their body or lift them off the cold ground, they’re uncomfortably cold.
If the dog is still, they are more likely to get a cold. For example, we wrap our smallest dog in a blanket when she’s in the car – but once she’s running around, she seems to generate enough heat to stay comfortable.
At home, pay attention to where the dogs are sleeping. They are trying to keep themselves waCurledrled up in a tight ball on the thickest bed; they can findnuzzleling under blankets.
My small dog has learned to show me if she wants a jumper on by wagging her tail and sticking her head in it if I hold it. So we might be able to teach our dogs to answer the question, “Do you want another layer on?”
If dogs are not sleeping well at night or getting up a lot in the wee hours, it’s a good idea to check how cold they feel and tries offering them warmer sleeping options.
If you’ve got a dog in the yard, ensure they have access to shelter and a bed to get them off the cold ground, especially when there is a cold wind.
Letting your dog choose
In Australia, a cold day is generally easier for dogs than a hot day.
So yes, you could have an Italian greyhound as a pet in southern Tasmania, as long as you add layers when needed and maybe accept they will sleep in bed with you under the covers.
I like to let dogs choose, as much as possible, what they need to manage their core temperature.
Dressing your dog in seasonal clothing might be tempting, but using blankets and bedding on a cold day could be better than letting dogs choose for themselves. Photograph: Geoff Swaine/REX/Shutterstock
For example, you might provide a bed with a cover, or extra bedding and blankets on a cold day, so they can use what they need and move away from it when they have warmed up enough.
Once I put a jacket on my dog, she cannot take it off herself, so I rely on being able to tell somehow that she doesn’t want it on anymore.
Still, this is an improvement on her simply climbing into my jacket with me all the time, which she still does sometimes, even when she has her extra layers.
Sometimes you want to cuddle up to a warm friend, though. It’s hard to argue with that!